Housing Advocates Debate Work Requirements to Ease Affordable Housing Crisis

Because more than half of HUD-assisted households cycle out of rental assistance in about five years, Couch said she is doubtful tighter requirements will shorten waiting lists.

Couch also said imposing those rules will inordinately harm seniors and disabled receiving housing assistance.

Edward Washington, Jr. a disabled resident in one of Houston Housing Authority's property and a service coordinator and elderly case worker for the Housing Authority, said he is in favor of requiring some participants to work.

Houston Housing Authority is not a participant in HUD's "Moving to Work" program, so it does not have a work requirement or time limit, but it does have a community service requirement for able-bodied households of eight hours a week.

Washington, 54, was born with a birth defect called Osteo-genesis Imperfector, known as "brittle bones." He has been a resident in a public housing property for three years and has worked for Houston Housing Authority for two.

When asked for his opinion about a time limit of say, five to 10 years, for some properties, Washington said, "I don't think limiting their stay in public housing to five to 10 years should be set in stone, but it should be used to motivate or give the individual a guide to go by. As far as work goes, we need to have the opportunity to play our part in society just like everyone else."

Washington said any potential time limit "should not be set in stone, because for some of us, public housing is our home."

"But this limitation should be like the proverbial boot," he said. "Every once in a while, we need a swift kick in the behind to get us motivated or going in the right direction."

Gunsolley of the Houston Housing Authority said he is not for or against time limits or work requirements for public housing participants, but he applauds the greater flexibility that "Moving to Work" affords housing authorities across the country.

"In an era of decreasing federal funding, it's a critical tool to survive. Even before the financial crisis, we were in a financial crunch. By deregulating, it allows us to re-imagine ways for us to provide these services."

Cora McCorvey, executive director and CEO of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, said her organization has no plans to implement work requirements or time limits. But with the sequestration and budget cuts, "we can't say that we're not going to consider it."

"We're small in terms of housing options for families. Most of our residents are seniors or disabled so imposing limits on those vulnerable people it's not anything we would consider now," she said.

Instead of imposing stricter guidelines on those who can receive assistance, the National Low Income Housing Coalition and 1,000 housing organizations are campaigning for a National Housing Trust Fund to be funded by limiting the mortgage interest tax deduction.

The campaign, called United for Homes, proposes to reduce the size of a mortgage eligible for a tax break to $500,000 from $1 million and convert the deduction to a 15 percent non-refundable tax credit. The group says doing so would raise over $200 billion in revenue over 10 years to end homelessness.

In March, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., proposed the Common Sense Housing Investment Act of 2013 to implement these changes in over five years.

Couch said she said she is doubtful lawmakers will make changes to public housing work requirements, time limits or HUD's Moving to Work program.

"The idea that Congress will do something this year is far-fetched," she said. "Everyone is so focused on deficit reduction. It's extremely frustrating when we don't even know if time limits make sense."

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